Monthly Archives: January 2010

Divas Las Vegas – Rob Rosen (Cleis Press)

Buy it Now at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

Despite that small cultural intersection where The Liberace Museum meets Cher and Bette’s casino shows, gay and Las Vegas go together about as well as chocolate cake and grape soda. However, Rob Rosen is using his smart, stylish sense of humor to change that in his latest book, Divas Las Vegas.

Best friends Em (think “Wizard of Oz”) and Justin turn Vegas upside down, intent on buying back Em’s grandmother’s heirloom vase, which got to the land of sun and sin courtesy of Antiques Roadshow. In their search for the missing piece of porcelain, they run into Julius Caesar, a Patsy Clineimitator, a cabdriver named Earl with a serious Marlboro jones – and, of course, the three people who wind up dead.

 From the very beginning when our hero finds himself in a church closet dressed in nothing but his underwear and surrounded by Bibles and votive candles, you know you’re in for a novel full of weird situations, odd characters and coincidences galore. It’s all played broadly and bawdily with plenty of cracks, smirks and asides as only Rob Rosen can make them. And the mystery story is smart enough to have you guessing right up to the denouement.

But wait – as the late Billy Masters would say – there’s more. In addition to the crackerjack plot, you also get some Vegas travelogue as Rosen takes his readers on a tour of the city, giving some pretty concise and factual information on the hotels and casinos as well as their clientele.My only problem is with Em’s straight female friend Glenda, who sounds more like a gay man than a hetero woman, but what’s the harm in that? She’s basically one of the guys anyway.

So, if you’re looking for a good time (and who isn’t?), crack open this book, hang your disbelief on the nearest slot machine handle and settle in for some laughs. You’ll be glad that when this happened in Vegas, it didn’t stay there. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Shaming the Devil – G. Winston James (Top Pen Press)

Buy it now direct at Top Pen Press or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

I have a lot I wanted to say about G. Winston James’s book, Shaming the Devil, but the stories have left me relatively speechless.

First  a warning…this is not light reading and I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart.  Shaming the Devil is a brutal and disturbing look at individual, familial and societal ideas of sex, desire and the often-unsettling outcomes of those urges.  It’s an emotional, erotic thrill ride that leaves the reader no choice but to continue to turn the pages, and it doesn’t let up until the very last one.

The collection starts off with “Uncle”.  Written from the point of view of a six year old as he tries to understand the “secret” games his older brother playswith him, and the growing “love” he feels for his uncle Paul.  It ends with his religious mother overreacting to the first completely innocent moment in the story, and the outcome of her shock and rage.

“With my uncle holding me like that I can feel my…thing pressed against his stomach.  It’s doing like my thumb did after daddy accidentally smashed it in the door.  It feels like it’s turning on and off like a lightning bug.  I only notice it when I’m playing with my brother, and sometimes when I’m around my uncle.”

I found “Somewhere Nearby” a brilliant mix of sexual cruelty, and violence during the self-examination of one man’s life as he faces death at the hands of two vicious and homophobic men.

“The cold of a gun barrel against my right temple is unlike anything I have ever felt. It is a shunt against rationality. My mind instantly fills with an even deeper dread than I have beenfeeling these last few minutes. Like falling from a high building, I am ill-equipped for the myriad unbearable sensations that may follow if I’m forced to live this particular cruising experience fully conscious to its end.”

There are twelve stories in the collection and like most collections, some stories are better than others, but there’s not one page you won’t want to turn.  The author gives each character a unique voice with shocking and alarming honesty.  There were several moments where I hadto set the book down and walk away, yet I always returned to resume the relentless thrill ride that Shaming the Devil provided me.

If brutality, sexual cruelty, violence and self-hatred bother you, then this collection is not for you.  However, for those of you who can handle these and other honest portrayals of sexual life, than you are in for one hell of a ride.

Reviewed by William Holden

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Hidden Conflict by Alex Beecroft, Mark R. Probst, Jordan Taylor, and E. N. Holland (Cheyenne Publishing)

Buy it Now at All Romance Books.

I hope no one minds if I call Hidden Conflict an excellent collection of short novels, as opposed to the publisher’s description of the book as a group of four “novellas.” You see, I’ve always agreed with Katherine Anne Porter’s opinion that novella is “a slack, boneless, affected word that we do not need to describe anything.” She much preferred the term “short novel,”and so do I.

I had to get my grumbling over with in the above paragraph,because honestly, from here on out I don’t have much to complain about in Hidden Conflict. The idea of collecting tales of gay military men from different periods in history is a great one, and we can instantly grasp the significance of the title: these men face not only the overt conflict of battle but also the inner conflicts that most gay men come to know, no matter where or when they have lived.

Don’t let the peaceful-sounding title of the first work in this volume, Blessed Isle, fool you; this narrative is a perfect example of what would happen if Murphy’s Law and the dictum “life is just one damned thing after another” got married. Set in1790, Captain Harry Thompson of the HMS Banshee falls in love with his lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, during the ship’s first—and last—voyage. Garnet is smitten also, but what these men have to endure will have you white-knuckled with anxiety: pestilence, mutiny, storms, shipwreck, and even a death sentence.

Alex Beecroft, who is at the top of her game as a writer of historical fiction, makes a shrewd tradeoff here. By framing the story as a series of alternating journal entries by the two men, she robs the narrative of any suspense regarding the outcome—obviously these guys live to tell their tale. But she balances out that choice by creating characters that you care about—you want to know how these guys get out of the scrapes they’re in. And the settings are so vivid that you are completely drawn into the writing. It’s a great read.

The next entry in the book, Mark R. Probst’s Not to Reason Why, tells about two U.S. Cavalry soldiers in 1876, marching from North Dakota to Montana to do battle with Indians. Hmmm, something about that place and time seems familiar, doesn’t it? When we learn, very soon, that their commanding officer is Lieutenant Colonel Armstrong Custer, a sense of oh-I-don’t-feel-good-about-this touches the heart like the cold tip of an arrow.

As in Blessed Isle,this short novel sacrifices some suspense by making at least part of its outcome a foregone conclusion: we know there’s disaster ahead. But the urge to learn the exact fates of the two soldiers, Brett Price and Dermot Kerrigan—the former desperately in love with the latter, who is of course straight and doesn’t have a clue—keeps us reading. I haven’t read many accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but the description here is unforgettable.

No Darkness is a tour de force. For this World War I drama about two men trapped in a cellar somewhere on the Western Front, author Jordan Taylor gives herself the challenge of having to move most of the story forward through dialogue alone. She accomplishes this so skillfully that it’s easy to imagine this work as a radio play (with a few terrifying sound effects). The delicate bond formed between the two men—one an officer, one a private; one (mostly?) straight, one gay—feels authentic in every way.

Our One and Only is a different sort of tale because it’s about two lovers who are permanently separated by war. Young Eddie Fiske is killed in France, leaving his lover, Phil Cormier, to try to make a life of his own in their home town of Baltimore.As the story follows Phil across four decades, we see him struggle to let go of his love for Eddie, or at least find a way of breaking its hold on his life.

Our One and Only misfires only when an anachronism drops into the dialogue; for example, the expression “on the down low” didn’t exist fifty years ago. But the emotional reality of the story is genuine all the way, and Phil’s climactic confrontation with his grief and anger, and the hopeful aftermath, provides a catharsis for the reader as well.

As a whole, Hidden Conflict is an eloquent reminder that lives lost in battle can never be replaced.If that seems like a simple lesson to learn, then why can’t the bloodthirsty nations of the world—including our own—take it to heart?

Reviewed by Wayne Courtois

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Queers in History – Keith Stern (BenBella Books)

Buy it Now at Amazon through Dreamweaver Group.

Queer men and women have been passed over and marginalized by history even though they have fundamentally changed its course countless times. It’s time to set the record straight (so to speak), but this “comprehensive encyclopedia” isn’t the book to do it. It’s a shoddy, superficial, ill-researched and poorly written mess.

Of five entries picked totally at random, three had substantial factual errors (Janis Ian – p. 233, Richard Deacon – p. 134 and Jackie “Moms” Mabley – p. 295). Let’s just look at the first one. The entry for singer/songwriter Janis Ian begins, “At the tender age of seventeen, Janis Ian wrote the song she’s been identified with ever since: ‘At Seventeen.’” Ian was born in 1951 and “At Seventeen” was written in 1973 (in her mother’s house, according to Wikipedia – hardly an obscure source), making her 22 at the time but I guess the sentence was too catchy for Stern to let facts stand in the way.

“Twenty five years later,” the entry continues, “the singer/songwriter recorded a beautiful new album and began her publicity campaign with an announcement of her long-term committed relationship with criminal defense attorney Patricia Snyder. Ian and Snyder were married in Toronto, Canada, on August 27, 2003.” End of entry. 62 lousy words. This last part is factually correct, but would have it been too much bother to mention the name of the beautiful new album? And what about “Society’s Child,” the hit that launched her career (and nearly killed it) when Ian was only 14? Her autobiography? I want to know what she did, not where and when she got married.

Consider the palty 100-word entry on Tennessee Williams (p. 493) that spends half of those words listing Williams’ plays and the other half gossiping about his longtime companion Frank Merlo. Stern doesn’t bother to tell us which of Williams’ works won Pulitzer Prizes, but confides that Merlo’s nickname was “Little Horse” (wink, wink) and tells an amusing anecdote about Merlo at a party.

Armistead Maupin (p. 308) gets a whopping 138 words, but at least Stern mentions Tales of the City, his “novelistic series” (wouldn’t it have been easier to say ‘series of novels?’) Two gay icons, Tennessee Williams and Armistead Maupin, get a shade over 200 words combined while the Lindsay Lohan entry (p. 284) runs just shy of 400. Sooooo, Lohan’s Disney remakes, singing career and rehab drama merit twice the space devoted to Williams’ and Maupin’s contributions to gay – and straight – culture.

Yeah. Right.

Not all the entries are uninteresting or inequitable, but Stern misses the mark far more often than he hits it, relying on gossip, unsubstantiated rumor and smarmy stories rather than celebrating the achievements of gay men and women with dignity and grace. He does not empower our culture so much as he embalms it within the narrow parameters of sex, substance abuse and misery usually allowed queer people. That alone is reason enough to give this a pass.

Because if we don’t care enough to take ourselves seriously, no one will either.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Wired Hard 4: Erotica for a Gay Universe, ed. by Lauren P. Burka and Cecilia Tan (Circlet Press)

Buy It Now at Dreamwalker Group or direct from Circlet Press

Wired Hard 4 by Circlet Press has a lot going for it if you can overlook the poor copy editing that is scattered throughout some of the pages. It’s enough to fragment the reader’s enjoyment of some really great stories.

The collection starts off with “When Angles Fall”, by Helen E. H. Madden, a sexy and endearing science fiction story about how one man’s upbringing in a religious “cult” effects how he deals with his dying mother and the future that she leaves him.

One of my favorite stories was Tom Cardamone’s, “Royal Catamite”. It is a wonderful erotic story that pushes the taboo buttons of underage sex and incest, in a way that only Tom can do. Set in an ancient imperial palace, a young boy of 13 is trained in the art of oral pleasures by his father and uncles so that he may one day serve the Emperor.

“I had never had a youthful man and liked the newness of his musk. Fermented from an afternoon on horseback, it was of obvious royal vintage. The divine strength barreled in the hard belly pushing against my nose both humbled and excited me. This joy did not show, however. I am a professional. My tongue became his muscle. I knew for his every thrust when to parry, when to suck. He emptied voluptuous milk into my mouth, which I had been coached to immediately spit into the cloth proffered by the Assistant Sub-Chamberlain. This fluid was rushed to the Royal Falconry where it was fed to His Highness’ favored hunting birds, forming a powerful bond between Emperor and Falcon.”

The collection isn’t without its hard-core kink, and Gavin Atlas delivers that kink in “Slavery by Degree”. Gavin has stretched the boundaries of imagination in his sub-boy fantasy with its fantastical sci-fi technology that any bottom would love!

“Hal began to lift Sky’s legs back into the stirrups. “It’s fine now, but what if someday someone figures out how to remove the port condom? You’ll get your ass barebacked even if these things let you feel practically everything already. They still have transmission errors once or twice a year, and then someone could try to break you out of the mew, take off your ring, and hold you captive. You could be stranded in some bad country and never see home again. If you’re doing this simply to be a slut, you should have just put your ass in the air for men in your home town.”

All of the stories in this collection have merit and make for some great bedtime reading. I must admit that I am not a big fan of e-publishing (and yes, I have ventured there a few times myself so I feel I can say this). For one I hate reading an entire book on my computer, and secondly as a librarian I want to hold the book. I want to feel and smell the pages, yes I said smell. I also think that the fast and almost instantaneous speed of e-book publishing has caused editors and even some writers to overlook basic editing techniques which ultimately leads to a less than quality product.

Reviewed by William Holden

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The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd (Dial Books)

Buy it Now! at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon via The Dreamwalker Group

Dade Hamilton, an outcast at Cedarville High School and occasional plaything of the school “Sexican,” Pablo Soto, gets to live out a bit of every gay boy’s fantasy during the weeks before he’s shipped off to college. Dade is repeatedly dissed publically by Pablo, who has to keep up appearances for his phobic football buddies and his popular girlfriend. However, over the final summer, Dade meets Lucy, a teen lesbian visiting from out of town who becomes his first true friend, and Alex Kincaid, a hot and mysterious boy from the wrong side of the tracks who is a sweet-natured drug dealer and too cool and too mellow for slurs to affect him or even be uttered in his presence. As they say, every kiss is a revolution, and when Alex kisses Dade at a pool party and the world doesn’t end, there is an epiphany for Dade and a bit of bliss.

However, author Nick Burd does a good job keeping the story in the real world. Problems swirl about Dade, his family, and Cedarville. While a subplot about a missing young girl is unnecessary, marital discord, his mother’s pill dependency, and the tenuous nature of a relationship that begins a few weeks before college combine to show how little of a teenager’s life consists of anything permanent and dependable and how scary that realization can be. While the plot’s progression is sometimes slow and the dialogue occasionally flat, Burd’s story hits hard emotionally even while offering Dade hope for the future. First, the reason why teenage heartbreak is so powerful and dangerous is that someone so young has no frame of reference that allows him to know that he’ll ever recover from the pain. (Burd reveals this in a way that is both tragic and unexpected.) Second, when Dade wishes he could “get past” the whole gay thing to a place where it doesn’t matter, Lucy points out that it’s impossible. “It will always matter to somebody.” That is so sad and so true.

Reviewed by Gavin Atlas

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Gay is a Gift – Salvatore Sapienza (Tregatti Press)

Buy it now from Tregatti Press or at Amazon via The Dreamwalker Group

How does an atheist approach reviewing a book on gay spirituality?

I suppose from the rear would be too cute an answer, so I’ll go with with patience and cautious optimism and leave it there. My atheism stems from an aborted major in Philosophy and Religious Studies in college, but one lesson I learned from those classes is that most, if not all, world religions stress the same tenets – basic caring, kindness and compassion for others, no matter what your differences are.

And on that basis, Salvatore Sapienza’s Gay is a Gift is a gift indeed – a fine offering of affirmation, information and motivation that will raise both your spirits and your consciousness. Livened and enriched by personal anecdotes and practical exercises, Sapienza’s book illuminates one man’s struggle to eliminate the negativity of being gay and replace it with the fine, white light of positivism.

If you are already of a spiritual bent and have reconciled that side of yourself with your sexuality, you may find much of what’s here to be old news. This is more of a primer than a deep exploration of the subject, but simple doesn’t mean simplistic. Sapienza does an excellent job of reducing some difficult concepts down to a layman’s level and everyone can find something to think about here.

For example, in a discussion on the question of Jesus’ sexuality, Sapienza states the following:

…I don’t mean to imply that Jesus was gay. It is interesting to note, however, that a disproportionately large number of the most highly conscious spiritual teachers in the history of the world were men and women who refused to partner with the opposite sex. If marriage and procreation are so sacred, then why did the majority of the most spiritually aware individuals on the planet refuse to partake in either?

Now, that’s a question I’d like to put to the Westboro Baptist Church, if they could only understand it.

Modeled after Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Gay is a Gift has an inclusive bibliography that will lead you to more specifically detailed reading on the subject. It’s a short, eminently readable summation of spirituality that will uplift, encourage and start you down whatever path you choose.

So help me G … well, you know.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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From Headrack to Claude: Collected Gay Comics by Howard Cruse (Nifty Kitsch Press)

Buy It Now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon via The Dreamwalker Group

Howard Cruse didn’t invent gay comics, but it’s hard to imagine gay comics—or underground comics, period—without him. Since the mid-‘70s Cruse has been creating stories that are textually and visually rich as well as homopolitically fearless. This wonderful volume brings together his Gay Comix stories as well as miscellaneous work he’s done for the Village Voice and other markets.

Don’t look for Cruse’s Wendel strips from The Advocate here, because they have been collected in their own volumes. Instead, expect a mind-boggling survey of gay history and culture, packed into a mere 100 pages.

Realizing that not all of us have been along for the whole ride, Cruse gives helpful commentary on some minor and major figures—for example, Ron Reagan (the president’s son), George Segal (the sculptor), and Jesse Helms (the asshole). And he gives real insight into the challenges he’s faced. For example, how do you introduce the topic of AIDS in comics? Answer: with compassion, truthfulness—and, yes, humor.

What a long, strange trip it’s been—and how lucky we’ve been to have Cruse as one of our countercultural gurus. And there’s more good news: a new edition of his beloved graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby will be coming out next June. Another reason to look forward to the balmy days of summer.

Reviewed by Wayne Courtois

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Nightlife by Dale Lazarov, Bastian Jonsson, and Yann Duminil (Bruno Gmünder)

Buy It Now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon via The Dreamwalker Group

Are you ready to party like it’s 1979? Though their settings are contemporary, the stories in the porno comic collectionNightlife bring back the glory days when guys would meet and fall into bed with each other just…like…that.

What’s that you say? You do meet guys and fall into bed with them just…like…that? Well, I hope you use condoms, like the gym bunnies in Nightlife do.

This book of stories-without-words has two major things going for it: (1) it’s high-end porn, from the estimable Bruno Gmünder publishing house—a class act; and (2) the men are lovingly, breathtakingly drawn by Bastian Jonsson. Seriously, these guys are so hot, you’d have to be dead and cremated to not react to them. At the same time, they have a cuddly kind of warmth and charm that makes me want to put them in my mouth, like a big old handful of jelly beans.

(Sigh) All that’s missing is a bottle of poppers. Oh wait, that’s so 1979…!

Reviewed by Wayne Courtois

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The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You – S. Bear Bergman (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Buy It Now! at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon via The Dreamwalker Group

Self-described gender-jammer S. Bear Bergman is an very courageous individual, though I suspect ze would react to that by turning red and looking down at hir shoes while muttering something self-deprecating. But The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, a collection of essays on being trans, negates any argument you might have about Bear’s intestinal fortitude.

Courage fairly drips off these pieces, but it’s not the stern John Wayne type. It’s a common sense, do-what-you-have-to-do type ballsiness leavened with humor. Oh yes. Bear is a very funny writer indeed. So funny you almost forget there’s a point to be made. Almost.

My favorite example – both of Bear’s writing and hir attitude – is in “New Year,” where ze and a friend are having dinner at an Indian restaurant and find themselves the object of impolite conversation from a nearby table. I would have gotten pissed off and confronted them, but Bear just bought their dinner, a stunningly simple act that not only disarmed the louts but made them think. Beautiful. I can’t think of a better reaction.

But beyond balls, Bergman’s also has incredible writing chops. Consider this passage from “Rule of Two,” about walking with hir husband, two obviously gender-fucking beings, down the streets of their adopted hometown:

“And how do I dress myself to go out with him? In love, in a cloak of the stupid, hopeful optimism of fresh love, which I imagine will protect me from both the wind and the weather like every other idiot in love has ever imagined.”

If you can read that without a tear in your eye and a catch in your throat, you’ve never been in love, my friend.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few instances where Bergman loses focus or belabors a point, but ze compensates with the sheer sassiness of pieces like “The Velveteen Tranny” or “When Will You Be Having the Surgery?” or the exploration of manners and masculine expectation “Not Getting Killed, with Kindness.” At Bergman’s best, ze brings a smile to your lips, a lump to your throat and a thought to your frontal lobe – a tough hat trick at best.

So if you’re in the mood for a read that makes you laugh at the same time it pokes at the tender areas of what it’s like to be an outlaw in a land of outlaws, spend some time with S. Bear Bergman’s The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You.

And if you ever get to Denver, Bear, please let me buy you a drink. I’d love to meet you.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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